Publication Date


Date of Final Oral Examination (Defense)


Type of Culminating Activity


Degree Title

Doctor of Education in Curriculum and Instruction


Curriculum, Instruction, and Foundational Studies

Major Advisor

Sara Hagenah, Ph. D.


Keith Thiede, Ph.D.


Heather Williams, Ph.D.


Jennifer Pierce, Ph.D.


Julianne A. Wenner, Ph.D.


Phenomenon-based teaching is a multidisciplinary instructional approach based on student inquiry and problem solving. Students investigate and solve their own questions by applying what topics are relevant to the problem. The goal of phenomenon-based learning is to prepare learners to solve problems in real life. Instead of passively learning abstract or disconnected concepts, phenomenon-based instruction provides student’s rich and meaningful context to the subject by actively engaging them to discover knowledge and skills required to solve the problems. Phenomenon-based instruction gives students the opportunities for discourse, argumentation-using claims with supporting evidence, and making sense of the material being covered, ultimately engaging them in the subject matter. This mixed methodology study focused on how phenomenon-based instruction in elementary classrooms affect student achievement and student engagement in the subject of science.

In this study four different fifth grade classrooms with a total of 106 students participated in this controlled study. All four classrooms were provided with the same science topics during the same week. Two classrooms taught using traditional science instruction, while the other two classrooms were taught using phenomenon-based instruction.

Phase One of the study measured whether there was a change in student achievement by using two-way analysis of variance tests. The students who received phenomenon-based instruction had higher scores on both factual and conceptual components of their posttest. The analysis found a statistically significant improvement on factual knowledge of the students who received phenomenon-based instruction compared to students who received a more traditional approach of science instruction.

Phase Two of the study assessed whether the phenomenon-based instruction affected student engagement. Data was triangulated by discourse analysis of student data, statements made by students, and observations of the researcher and teachers. Students who received phenomenon-based instruction demonstrated higher levels of engagement by students asking more science-related questions, discussing more frequently using argumentation strategies, and making connections through sensemaking.

Phenomenon-based instruction positively affects both student achievement and engagement in fifth grade elementary science education. Additional research is needed to measure whether this type of instruction would have the same impact on other grades or disciplines.